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JCC State of Mind – January 19, 2024

Posted by Admin on January 19, 2024

Continuing the Work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Joachim Prinz

When the nation’s attention turned to the National Mall on August 28th, 1963, moments before the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream of what America could be, his ally, Rabbi Joachim Prinz of New Jersey took to the podium. He and King were among the ten leaders of the March on Washington. Preceding King to the platform, Prinz delivered a stirring speech against deplorable silence in the face of injustice. It was an expression of his life-long commitment to the cause of equality and liberty, but speaking “as an American Jew,” it also celebrated a very personal connection with his adopted and beloved homeland. He declared at Lincoln’s feet and in King’s presence:

As Jews we bring to this great demonstration, in which thousands of us proudly participate, a two-fold experience — one of the spirit and one of our history.

In the realm of the spirit, our fathers taught us thousands of years ago that when God created man, he created him as everybody’s neighbor. Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity.

From our Jewish historic experience of three and a half thousand years we say:

Our ancient history began with slavery and the yearning for freedom. During the Middle Ages my people lived for a thousand years in the ghettos of Europe. Our modern history begins with a proclamation of emancipation.

Our Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement, along with our entire JCC community, is committed to their teaching of “neighbor” as a moral concept and our role as partners and allies in the fight against racism, antisemitism, and bigotry of all kinds.

On MLK Day this past Monday, in celebrating King’s legacy and the continued work that we need to do, Pastor Janet Hellner-Burris, of the Christian Church of Wilkinsburg, is a strong ally and CFLK Advisory Committee member, acknowledged the work of the JCC’s Center for Loving Kindness and how it impacts Wilkinsburg. She noted how we are partners and allies in the work for the sake of all of our neighbors.

On Wednesday, we proudly hosted the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh in the South Hills JCC for their first Righteous Among The Neighbors award ceremony. Righteous Among the Neighbors is a joint project of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and the LIGHT Education Initiative, in partnership with student journalists at Mt. Lebanon High School, to honor non-Jewish Pittsburghers who have supported Jewish community and stood up against antisemitism, particularly in response to the October 27th, 2018 attack on three Pittsburgh area Jewish congregations. The 150 people that filled the JCC enjoyed an evening of pure goodness because of the spirit of the honorees at a time when pure goodness is hard to come by.

Rabbi Prinz concluded his 1963 remarks with words that unfortunately still ring true today and that guide our work across real and perceived differences based on our shared humanity.

America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent. Not merely black America, but all of America. It must speak up and act, from the President down to the humblest of us, and not for the sake of the Negro, not for the sake of the black community but for the sake of the image, the idea and the aspiration of America itself.

Our children, yours and mine in every school across the land, each morning pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the republic for which it stands. They, the children, speak fervently and innocently of this land as the land of “liberty and justice for all.”

The time, I believe, has come to work together — for it is not enough to hope together, and it is not enough to pray together — to work together that this children’s oath, pronounced every morning from Maine to California, from North to South, may become a glorious, unshakeable reality in a morally renewed and united America.

May King’s dream and Prinz’s call to action become our reality because of the work of our hearts, heads, and hands.

Wishing you and your families a Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Ron Symons

Senior Director of Jewish Life and Founding Director of the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement

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